Report Ascendo home theater in Ansbach: In the ecstasy of 5 Hertz
In October 2015, it was shortly after the foundation of LowBeats, we went on one of our first editorial visits. The destination: Ansbach. More precisely: The old courthouse on the outskirts of the town, popularly called "Galgenmühle". In the early modern times a court is said to have met here. Today, however, it's no longer the executioners who have their day, but rather the perpetrators of conviction in matters of the best hi-fi and the very best cinema. It is the address of Ascendo.
Here the fine Ascendo loudspeakers are developed and produced. And this is also where the superior cinema systems of the Ascendo subsidiary AIA (Ascendo Immersive Audio) are born. A visit to the Ascendo home theater in Ansbach 4 years ago (see also report) opened my eyes (and ears) to what is possible when it comes to the best home cinema. And so we couldn't say no when we got the call from Ascendo boss Stefan Köpf asking if we wanted to see another Ascendo cinema screening at the Ansbach installation: A lot of things would have happened since, he said.
At LowBeats, we have followed the development of Ascendo over the last few years very closely and knew very well that under the AIA umbrella, not only were the classic cinema speakers permanently improved, but also that the ultimate in quality was being introduced into the program. Like the Black Swan, for example, a fully active 3-way speaker with 38 cm bass and a huge mid-high horn driven by a 5 cm beryllium-coax compression driver. That is impressive to read and also looks spectacular. But once it's turned on, it blows you away: the black swan with a single woofer is said to produce 140 dB maximum sound pressure. There is no such thing in HiFi.
And then there are the Subwoofers. At AIA, we don't deal only with the standard 18 or 21 inch formats - which is huge. There is also the 24 inch, the 32 inch and the world's largest series-produced subwoofer: the SMSG 50 with a diameter of 127 centimeters. When you stand in front of it, fragile tempers overcome a very uneasy feeling and bass fans can't get out of their grin. It has something of a modern roller coaster: for the latter it is certainly a hell of a lot of fun, but you still have respect.
You ought to have. The forces tugging at this Subwoofer diaphragm are so great that a gluing plus double stitching is necessary for the contact between diaphragm and surround. The monster, which costs 68,000 Euros and can also reproduce 5 Hertz at very high levels, made its first public appearance at the HIGH END in Munich in 2017.
It was immediately popular because all the phono demonstrations of its fair neighbors ended immediately: The thing plays so low that all tonearm system resonances were hit accurately, and the needles jumped out of the groove... According to the company brochure the monster moves as much air as 40 (in words forty!) 18-inch woofers and even at 20 Hertz it reaches a sound pressure of over 125 decibels. Don't you need a gun license for that, Mr. Koepf? A meaningful smile...
The speakers of the Ascendo home theater
You don't have to wonder why we could NOT turn down the invitation to Ansbach, of course. The recently rebuilt demo cinema in the Galgenmuehle has 34 fully active (classic) AIA systems and three Black Swans in the front. And of course "the beast", the SMSG 50, could not be ignored either. "We wanted to show what is possible today", said Stefan Köpf and smiled again in a funny way - I suspected something nasty.
With his help, Dolby Atmos 11.9.6, Auro 3D 13.10.19 and Dolby DTS:X can be heard in Ansbach. Each of these sound formats requires different loudspeaker constellations at certain points, which is why the Ascendo cinema has quite a few loudspeakers installed:
– Hi Front: 3 x CCRM12 MKII
– Hi Surround: 4 x CCRM6 MKII
- Front Speaker: 3 x Black Swan Beryllium Single (group 1) or 3 x CCRM12 (group 2), but they never play together
- Surround speakers: 8 x CCRM6 MKII
- Ceiling speaker: 6 x CCRM6 MKII
- Subwoofer (LFE): 6 x SMSG15, 2 x SMS15, 1 x SMSG50 or 1 x SMSG32 or 1 x SMSG24. Again: the G24, G32 and G50 never play together
For Auro 3D additionally fitted:
- Hi Front: 3 x CCRM12 MKII
- Hi Surround: 4 x CCRM6 MKII
I counted several times and came up with 38 installed speaker systems. And they are, apart from the systems behind the screen, hardly hidden at all. The Ascendo Cinema in Ansbach is a classic demo cinema, which quickly needs to be converted or extended. This now has only limited living room charm, but the technology is clearly visible to the visitor - as the slide show shows.
In addition to the calibration by the Trinnov, the AIA Speaker Management (the integrated room acoustic correction in each loudspeaker) can be adjusted precisely. This way, says Koepf, especially the subwoofers can be fine-tuned and corrected.
We listened mainly in the Auro 3D format. Whereby the huge SMSG50 only runs below 50 hertz. Eight subwoofers with 15 inch provide the "upper bass" up to 120 hertz. Then the woofers from Black Swan, CCRM12 and CCRM6 take over.
This relief of the mid-high systems provides an absurdly high, completely distortion-free maximum level of the overall system, which is otherwise only achieved with large sound reinforcement systems.
The acoustics and the equipment at the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach
However, the Ascendo staff has created good conditions here that they make hefty adjustments not that required: 60% of the cavity in the acoustic ceiling was covered with 8 cm thick Basotec panels, the floor was almost completely covered with a heavy, thick industrial carpet. And against the disturbing bass resonances between 40 and 100 Hz, seven panel resonators were placed at the acoustically relevant points in the room. The result: when speaking, the room sounds exactly like a cinema has to sound: quite strongly damped, with little reverb.
With so much effort, the electronics installed as front end must of course also be of the finest quality. At the time of our visit were connected:
AVR: Trinnov Altitude 32 (32 ch)
Projector: Sony VPL HW55ES
Blu-ray player: OPPO UDP-205
AVB Switch: 2 x Extreme Summit X440-24t G2
Analogue to AVB: Motu 24 AI
The connoisseur will find a meaningful mix of the best components on the market. There is no need to ask about the power amplifier electronics: they are built into each AIA loudspeaker. After my last visit I titled the report "3D-Sound World with 20.000 Watt". This time I used power amplifiers with a total output of at least 40,000 watts. And even though not all speakers were playing at the same time: The absolute sovereignty of a system that never reaches its limits in terms of performance was noticeable from the very first note.
The sonic experience at the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach
We started with David Gilmour Live at Pompeii. Great sense of space, everything came very saturated, powerful, and full of bounce. There was something not perfect though. Cut. Light on: "Sounds not bad, but a little flat", I heard my colleague Vogt say - and he beat me to it. Koepf frowned briefly, then the enlightenment: "Oh God yes. Yesterday this customer was there. He was totally sensitive to heights. I'll put everything back to normal." He opened his laptop for a moment, took out the filters from the previous day within a minute and let the Gilmour Band play again. It's good when a system this complex is so easy to fine-tune. Then a relieved grin on all faces: This is the way it has to be. To all the power and blackness was now added the resolution and lightness.
The sound stage is almost perfect. We no longer sat on the sofa in the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach, but stood in the middle of the small amphitheatre of Pompeii. And even though everyone present had heard & seen it umpteen times before, we couldn't escape the fascination of the pictures, but first of all this incredibly gripping authenticity of the sound of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". Take a breather. I, for one, had never experienced the classic in such a captivating and fascinating way before.
Of course, Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen Epic, could not be missing. There are certainly Blu-rays that sound even more brilliant. But because EVERY demonstrator really has the Wembley Stadium performance in their repertoire, this track already has something like reference status. So let's go. The tension before Freddy gives the starting signal can be felt physically. Even the first piano strokes go right through your bone and marrow. And then the performance of Brian May: The riffs of his guitar came with an insane ease: from zero to 200 in fractions of a second: Wow!
Three things move the listener in this moment: Namely how gripping music can be when a.) the sound has no dynamic or level restrictions whatsoever, when b.) a lifelike big picture is added and c.) the realization that the usual living room systems are a million miles away from the performance shown here.
We had been listening a little too loud the whole time. But distortion-free volumes still need to be increased; that's where - I imagine - happiness hormones are released. Koepf asked: "Shall we do a little more?" Yes, yes, yes...
You simply cannot push this system to its limits. At least not until your ears are closed. And this extraordinary bass range makes a significant contribution to this. With David Gilmour and Bohemian Rhapsody, the bass significantly expanded the feeling of space. It gives the mighty drums or bass-drums even more foundation, but their timbre spectrum is beyond its scope.
In order to show what this mega-woofer is really capable of, Koepf then added the Blu-ray movie A Quiet Place - supposedly the movie with the greatest low-frequency content on the market. The plot is - well - simple, but not unexciting: Pregnant, later even giving birth, woman is in a house with man-eating giant alien and therefore must not make a sound. Of course, that doesn't work. And the alien is not only huge, but also quite nimble on the loose...
That's just about the limit. Although the murderous cat&mouse or woman & alien game came to an expected end, I couldn't escape the film for a single moment. It's brutal what such deep tones mean for the human emotions. There is something very physical about it. You're there, standing behind the door when the alien is lurking by. ...very close. I think I even breathed shallower so as not to make a sound. It's amazing. It was a real experience.
The Ascendo Cinema in Ansbach is suited to start discourses on the philosophy of hearing. Namely, how important is the musical experience at original volume even into the infrasonic range? In 2003 the British Science Association (formerly: British Association for the Advancement of Science) made and published its so-called 17 Hertz experiment. They played film sequences to various groups of people with and without infrasound additives. In the end, the researchers concluded that "low-frequency sounds can trigger unusual experiences in people - even if they are not consciously aware of the infrasound.
I can fully confirm the study based on my visit to the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach, especially since the SMSG50 goes a full two octaves lower again. Normally I like to use the word "intoxicating" in such references. But this is not the case here. It's a very direct access to all emotions, which can be rather depressing, but also very intoxicating.
This dynamic and depth, which can be experienced so well in the reproduction of music or films, throws the viewer - guided more or less skilfully by the director and his sound engineers - into a rollercoaster of emotions. This has nothing, but absolutely nothing, to do with the experience of usual soundbars or normal sized home cinemas (with a 10 inch subwoofer for example). This is simply overwhelming; you are there with every fiber.
It's like a roller coaster ride, as I mentioned above. But not the little one from the spring festival around the corner, but the Silverstar from the Europapark Rust. And it can - like the Silverstar - make you happy and addicted.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, is this really the best home cinema in the country? Yes and no. In terms of deep bass impression, dynamics and physical experience, I know of absolutely nothing comparable. However, I'm lucky to be able to see films more often at My Sound in Starnberg and here it doesn't sound quite as brute-bodied and lifelike (My Sound "only" has a 32 inch speaker...), but it's a bit more transparent, even more effortless, and ultimately more audiophile. A visit report is still pending here. My Sound boss Wolfgang Linhard attaches even more importance to perfect room acoustics, mains filtering and even the optimal re-clocking of all digital components in his cinema. You can hear that. And which speaker systems are installed at MySound? Those from the Ascendo AIA range...
I wrote these lines with enough distance to the Ascendo visit. But there is no question in my mind that the Ascendo AIA systems currently represent the ultimate in home cinema because of their audiophile approach, the simplicity of their use and the size of the product lineup. And it doesn't necessarily have to be the brute force of the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach. The demo installation in the Galgenmuehle is virtually a muscle show that proves what is possible at the maximum possible expense. And that is breathtaking. Nevertheless, the wide range of products, especially in the field of subwoofers, makes scaling down pleasantly easy.
While visiting the Ascendo cinema in Ansbach, Köpf made us the offer to send his "mobile" demo cinema set with 24 inch woofer to Munich. I know that the setup takes a few days and will be really exhausting. However, I am already very excited about the idea...